In all of my life I have never participated in this Black Friday stuff. And to be honest, I don’t recall there even being such a phenomenon for the first half of my life. Maybe it existed, but not the way it does today. Seems it’s picked up speed over the past decade, too. It would never have interested me anyway; the sorts of gifts I like to give are books signed by the author (usually after having sent them my own personal copy first, months before, with a brief letter of enquiry along with means for postage paid return) or a cherished print returned to its owner matted and framed (who can justify such a costly project for themself?), a rare kitchen tool, or maybe a case of a favorite wine. Useful things, beautiful things – things that certainly cannot be gleaned from a mad rush to Kmart at five in the morning just after the tryptophan has worn off. I don’t mean to sound like a snob here, but I probably do. If that’s how I appear, so be it.
I do realize there are deals to be had on this celebrated day, yet I still can’t help but feel that even so, why wait til the most crowded, stressed-out day of the shopping year to acquire things one needs? With a little forethought and some careful planning – not too much, mind you, as one means to decrease the stress associated with purchasing, not increase it – one can find good prices on coveted items throughout the year. Me, I waited a good year before buying a tv, and even then it took me weeks to find the best deal, once I’d found the model I wanted. I don’t often exercise such prudent self-restraint, but it was a big purchase, and goddam it, I meant to do it right. And I did.
So are we creating needs we don’t have in order to justify buying stuff at outrageously ‘good’ prices? Or do folks enter those double doors before daybreak with lists in hand, on the search for only the things they came for? Or is it mostly a free-for-all, a mad dash to random endcaps and display bins, hands grabbing frantically to see what lady luck has in store…? My former mother-in-law would both fascinate and frustrate me with her own method of shopping for ‘stuff’ (I think we can all agree that this whole exploration is about shopping for things and not food… That’s another topic altogether). She would return from the store, usually Target or Kmart (that alone drove me nuts as she easily had the means to visit much higher quality establishments), and proceed to show us all that she’d bought – and tell us about all the money she’d saved in doing so. “See?” she’d say, bright with sincerity, “These were half off, so I got two for the price of one!”. Only thing was, she hadn’t bought a single thing anyone in the family needed – or even wanted. She hadn’t gone to the store for anything in particular, just a deal. And what she came back with was always crap. Pressed to recall what that crap was exactly, I cannot remember. But trust me, the shit she came back with had me wanting to drop my jaw and shake my head in amazement, but back then I was a polite thing, and for the most part I withheld editorial comment. (For the most part.)
I myself am a dedicated, purposeful shopper. I always know what I’m looking for. And when I find it, I’ll often buy several of the sought item, because shopping is not for me a stress reliever (I admit that if I had more money, it might be) and I like to make sure I’m set for a while. So today, my son and I will embark on our first ever Black Friday experience, in search of several very specific items, all of which we are fully prepared to learn are sold out. The purchases are not the biggest reason for our trip, however. Today we’re going out on something of an anthropological excursion to see how it is that our fellow citizens live. I don’t get out much, so I think it might even be fun. We’ll have a modest lunch while we’re out, and perhaps make a few impulsive stops along the way. It’s a lot of gas and driving, but we’ll enjoy the ride – we’ve got our music to keep things lively, including the requisite polka collections and of course, a little Steely Dan classic named in honor of the day.
Post Script: Our outing was a great disappointment; my son realized that the very items he’d wanted (along with every other sixth grade boy in the area) and had hoped would be marked down in price were, in fact, not selling for a penny less, nor would they be anytime soon. He’s currently studying economics in school, and if ever there were a real-life lesson on the subject, here it was. He was able to get something for his little brothers, but all in all, the experience was a letdown. And even by mid-afternoon the lines, both in the stores and out on the street, were long and slow-moving. Happily, I’d brought some new polkas along, and sure enough, that was the only consolation to the day.
Our feeling is that it’s probably best to acquire gifts online (and only after reading the product reviews!). At the end of the day we are true homebodies, happiest when our chickens are safely tucked inside their coop, and we ourselves back at home, snug and warm. Malls and masses of humanity just don’t do it for us. No matter, it wasn’t a day wasted, it was a lesson learned. After all, you never know until you go…